Fattening up for the fall migration, this Greater Yellowlegs took advantage of high water on the lake to snag a few Nine-spine Sticklebacks tucked up in grass beds. (Chignik Lake, August 20, 2018)
The Greater Yellowleg’s piercing call can sound something like a car alarm going off, plenty loud enough to have stirred us from sleep during their spring and fall migration through The Chigniks. If you happen near their nest, you’ll know it. These are fairly large as shorebirds go, averaging about 14 inches in length, and they fiercely defend their territory with ear-piercingly shrill cries.
A treetop is generally not the place to look for shorebirds, but rules have exceptions and so it is with Greater Yellowlegs. While most of the year marshes, mudflats and other wetlands are a good place to look for this species. when they’re on their breeding grounds, check the trees. Yellowlegs use the vantage to keep watch over nests. (Chignik Lake, June 4, 2019)
Their nests are often located near small trees or other features in boggy terrain, which makes the landscape around Chignik Lake ideal breeding ground. While nesting, their diet consists mainly of insects. But during migration, they typically switch to meatier fare such as small fish. Active hunters, watching one high-step along a shoreline as it deftly uses its bill like chopsticks to capture whatever two-inch species might be available is to study a true master. The ones I’ve seen need work at at it only briefly before getting a full belly and treating themselves to a nap.
Stepping along the shoreline. (Chignik Lake, August 20, 2018)
With a salmon parr (probably Sockeye). (Chignik Lake, August 20, 2018)
Nap time. (Chignik Lake, August 20, 2018)
Greater Yellowlegs Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Tringa: New Latin, from Ancient Greek trungus = white-tailed, bobbing shorebird mentioned by Aristotle.
melanoleuca: from Ancient Greek melas = black + leukos = white
Status at Chignik Lake, 2016-19: Common Spring through early Fall
David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Common
Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010: Common in Spring and Summer; Uncommon in Fall; Absent in Winter
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present
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*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake
© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.